Those colleges and universities that seem to be vying for the chance to be Catholic in Name Only (CINO) may soon lose even that designation because Pope Benedict XVI has indicated in his writings that the Mother Church may release these institutions of higher learning to fend for themselves.
“It dawned on me that, with their insistence on preserving institutions [the bishops] misread the reality,” then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote of Nazi Germany. “Merely to guarantee institutions is useless if there are no people to support these institutions from inner conviction.”
In other books and speeches, Cardinal Ratzinger did more than foreshadow his approach to Catholic education.
“In the past two decades an excessive amount of institutionalization has come about in the Church, which is alarming,” Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in A New Song for the Lord (1998); “Future reforms should therefore aim not at the creation of more institutions but at their reduction.”
This pontiff is uniquely poised to address the secular drift in Catholic higher education. MIT economist James Gruber has done an extensive study of religion and economic life and in a recent appearance at the American Enterprise Institute, he pointed out that religions grow by setting themselves in opposition to popular culture and trends in society, not by conforming to them.
Catholic universities, particularly those run by the Jesuit order of priests, too often follow the latter strategy. One example of this is that most Jesuit universities in the United States allow gay-lesbian- bisexual & transgender clubs—generally called GLBT’s— on campus but few host chapters of the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic fraternal organization.
“I felt kicked in the stomach and then I probably felt kicked out the door,” gay Catholic theologian Mark Jordon said of Cardinal Ratzinger’s elevation to the papacy. Jordon, who now teaches religion at Emory, was on the faculty at Notre Dame. Books he has written include The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology and The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism.
In his new book, The Man Who Was Ratzinger, author Michael S. Rose has done an exhaustive review of the Holy Father’s life and letters. Rose recounts how one nominally Catholic theologian, Paul Knitter, even made it into one of Cardinal Ratzinger’s speeches.
Formerly a priest, Dr. Knitter still teaches theology at Xavier University, which is also run by the Jesuit order. In that position, he regales his students with his thoughts and observations, such as his view of the Resurrection as “problematic,” not exactly an analysis that the Church has ever regarded as the wisdom of the ages.
Then there’s Father Thomas Reese, S. J., former editor of the Jesuit magazine America. When he stepped down from that post, his admirers hinted that he was forced out by Pope Benedict XVI. Certainly, Father Reese offered criticism of the new pope that got the Jesuit cleric national media attention.
Rose shows how the bishops in the United States are complicit in the secular drift of Catholic colleges and universities. In his encyclical Ex Corde Ecclessiae, Pope John Paul II chastised the CINO schools.
“It took the U. S. bishop’s committee on Catholic higher education a whole decade to study the implications of Ex Corde Ecclessiae before releasing its own guidelines for the document’s implementation in the United States,” Rose writes. “These guidelines were criticized by the Vatican as inadequate.”
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.